One of the things that young reporters struggle with is the realization that there is no one perfect way to approach a given news story. In fact, different publications my approach the same story in radically different ways.
It’s like that old copy-desk joke about the headlines that would run in different newspapers in response to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ/The End of the World/Etc., etc. Here’s a sample:
USA Today: WE’RE DEAD
The Wall Street Journal: DOW JONES PLUMMETS AS WORLD ENDS
National Enquirer: OJ AND NICOLE, TOGETHER AGAIN
Discover Magazine: HOW WILL THE EXTINCTION OF ALL LIFE AS WE KNOW IT AFFECT THE WAY WE VIEW THE COSMOS?
Ladies Home Journal: LOSE 10 POUNDS BY JUDGMENT DAY WITH OUR NEW “ARMAGEDDON” DIET!
The New York Times: MILLIONS SEE HUMAN IN SKY, CLAIM IT’S JESUS CHRIST; WHITE HOUSE BLAMES RELIGIOUS RIGHT
The New York Post: THE END
You get the idea. The list can go on and on.
I bring this up because of the amazing range of stories that are being written about the new memoir by former President George W. Bush. So far, it seems that Bush’s renewed faith — linked to his decision to stop drinking alcohol — is literally at the heart of “Decision Points.” In other word, all of the other decision points follow, and grow out of, this religious decision.
Like it or hate it, it appears that this is a faith-based book. That is certainly the impression one gets in this wrap-up of several sources that ran at the “On Faith” site at The Washington Post. Of course, you would expect that angle in the faith weblog, right?
However, if one reads the feature in the same newspaper’s Style section, one gets a completely different impression. Here we see the dominant religion that is practiced here in Beltway land, the faith the real world. What does this lengthy feature say about the role of Christianity in the president’s daily life? What are the factors that shape the book?
Prepare to be stunned: It’s all about political gossip. Here’s the one passage that touches on faith.
Two years after leaving office, Bush seems to have settled into a routine of exercise, speeches and local events that matches what he always said he aspired to post-presidency. He gave a motivational speech last fall at a conference, talking about his reliance on God. He spoke at the reopening of a renovated rodeo park in Oklahoma. He spoke to high school seniors in New Mexico, staying away from politics.
Did you blink and miss it? So what are the elements of the book — the personal elements — that jump out to the Style gods? Here is a passage up high that captures the flavor. The context is this crucial question: Will the book improve W’s political image?
His approval rating is still low; 55 percent of Americans disapproved of him as of October, according to an Associated Press poll, and more people continue to blame him for the current economic crisis than blame President Obama.
That may not matter for Bush’s book sales, however, and his strategy of silence ensured the details that have already begun to leak are all the more tantalizing. Among the revelations: He contemplated removing Cheney from the ticket in 2004 and replacing him with Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) but decided not to. He elaborates on his most embarrassing moments before he quit drinking, recounting the time he drunkenly asked a woman at a dinner party what sex after age 50 is like.
Well, now. Please read the whole feature. I think that it’s stunningly faith free, even in comparison with other MSM coverage.
So after looking over the story, take a stab at this question: What is the Washington Post Style headline for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ/End of the World/Etc., Etc.? Anyone want to imagine what that would be?